As one of the “big boys” of test prep, Kaplan has a reputation for providing reliable results. When talking to my college friends on what companies they used for MCAT prep, I noticed that Kaplan seemed to be the most common. It’s likely that you have heard of Kaplan before, but to make a balanced decision on how to prepare for the MCAT, you must recognize the strengths and shortcomings of each prep company.
Kaplan’s array of MCAT prep packages empowers one to find a preparation that is right for them (see the bottom of this article for more specific information about package options). Personally, Kaplan’s books and practice tests were the meat and potatoes of my own MCAT preparation. I would say Kaplan’s programs and materials are very strong, despite a few shortcomings.
Additionally, Kaplan boasts a money-back guarantee. After completing all required work for a Kaplan MCAT course, you are eligible to get all your money back if you do not see a score improvement from a pre-Kaplan official test or from your diagnostic test. Be wary that Kaplan’s diagnostic test is tougher than the real thing!
If you scored higher than your baseline score but you still want to retake the test, Kaplan can extend your material access by 12 weeks for free. It’s important to take note that Kaplan does not offer refunds if scores improve.
The material access only includes what is in the Self-Paced Course (see below for more information about this course). Kaplan previously allowed unsatisfied test-takers to retake its courses for free, but Kaplan has since changed its policy.
If you are planning to capitalize on this guarantee, note that taking the MCAT more than twice often hurts your chances of admission. Be strategic when, and if, you retake your MCAT.
Kaplan’s instructor-led classes are taught by 90th-percentile or higher scorers. The application process to teach is quite selective, and instructors undergo immense amounts of training. Overall, Kaplan does a great job selecting and vetting its instructors.
The material covered in Kaplan courses is poignant, focusing on high-yield topics. The courses do a great job breaking down critical concepts and applying them to different practice scenarios. Students also have the ability to ask instructors questions to clarify nebulous concepts.
The biggest downside to Kaplan’s courses is how expensive they are (see below for full price breakdown). There is a $700 difference between the Self-Prep Course and the Live Online Course, the only difference being that Live Online includes class time. While most people would benefit from the structure of the Live Online course, the price difference is so steep that there is a good chance it is not worth it.
Also, a good portion of class time is spent reading passages and working individually. This is helpful for building skills, but it may irritate those strapped for cash knowing that they are paying for class time but completing tasks they could do on their own at home.
Additionally, some students sign up for MCAT courses with the unrealistic expectation that the course will bring them up to speed if they are starting at square one. This is NOT the case. To understand the material, students with limited science backgrounds will need to take control of their own studying and not rely entirely on what is covered in class to catch them up.
Kaplan’s 130 Science Review videos are awesome. They cover all of the key concepts from the textbooks in a relatively concise manner. You can also watch them at 0.75x, 1x, 1.5x, or 2x speed. These adjustments can either help you work through tougher material more intently or allow you to speed through material you already understand.
I watched the Science Review videos before I began studying the textbook. This approach primed me for textbook material I had never seen before, like chemical reactions involving fatty acids. Overall, I would recommend watching the videos to get a baseline understanding and then memorizing textbook content to further prepare for test day.
Kaplan’s textbook set (often referred to as “Subject Review Books”) contains seven books, covering Biology, Biochemistry, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Psychology/Sociology, and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (“CARS”).
From my memory, Kaplan’s books covered everything I needed on the Biology/Biochemistry and Chemistry/Physics sections of the MCAT. However, both times I took the MCAT, there were vocabulary terms on the Psychology/Sociology section of the MCAT not covered in Kaplan’s Books. I would recommend supplementing preparation for this section with other materials, like pre-made Quizlet quizzes.
Kaplan’s textbooks also explain topics in a manner that helps the material click. For other content, Kaplan has clever mnemonic devices to help you remember lists and processes. Note that some topics in the textbook are quite dense (like carbohydrate metabolism), but there is no real way to cover this challenging material in detail without it seeming a little dry.
Kaplan’s textbooks also have chapter summaries at each chapter’s end, covering key ideas and vocabulary terms, in addition to listing out formulas. I would read these summaries first, then read the chapter. This process helped me absorb information better.
Kaplan’s Q-Bank is mostly full of discrete questions, which can be helpful in pinpointing areas to study. Overall, I think the questions do a good job challenging test-takers to put together pieces of information they learned, rather than regurgitate memorized facts. Many official MCAT questions challenge test-takers to apply memorized information to novel settings, so the Q-Bank does a solid job addressing this.
Because over 80% of questions on the MCAT are passage-based, I would suggest spending much more time reviewing other study materials than the Q-Bank, as its absence of passage-based questions stunts its helpfulness.
Kaplan’s practice tests do a good job informing test-takers of what topics are best to review and build test-taking stamina. Questions and passages are formatted closely to that of the real thing. However, some questions require outside knowledge totally excluded from Kaplan’s textbooks. It would be beneficial that when this happens, Kaplan could at least direct you to an outside resource to review the topics at hand.
Additionally, Kaplan’s Biology/Biochemistry passages are very heavy on chemical pathways in the body–which is great because those are often the hardest passages on the section. However, Kaplan’s Bio/Biochem passages are often shorter than the passages on the actual test, which can throw off slower readers.
Furthermore, Kaplan’s practice tests are quite a bit harder than the official test. For example, when I was preparing to retake the MCAT, I took eight full-length Kaplan tests. My average score was 510, with 507 as my lowest score and a 514 as my highest. I scored a 519 on the real test. In other words, use an official AAMC practice test to better gauge your current level of performance.
Also, the format of Kaplan’s practice MCAT exams essentially mirrors that of the official test. Practicing with Kaplan’s exam features truly does a good job putting you in the test-taker mindset, which will only benefit you on test day.
Overall, Kaplan does a solid job breaking down key test-taking strategies. One topic Kaplan approaches particularly well is how to understand wrong answer pathologies to identify correct answers.
One issue with Kaplan, on the other hand, is its approach to passage analysis for each MCAT section with a one-size-fits-all mentality. Kaplan instructs all students to outline every passage the same way (i.e. the Kaplan method), regardless of the passage’s content or student’s skill level. This approach is a bit naive, as writing passage outlines can be time-consuming and may not yield particularly useful results.
For example, I found that on the Biology/Biochemistry section of the MCAT, I only needed to outline passages with a series of chemical signals affecting each other. Linear passages generally do not demand the effort to outline them, but Kaplan fails to address this.
For $49/month or less, Kaplan’s Adaptive Q-Bank (short for “Question Bank”) will grant you access to over 3,000 MCAT-style questions. “Adaptive” is the key word for Kaplan’s Q-Bank; it allows you to select certain topics to focus on and tracks your performance on each. Additionally, each question also comes with complete explanations, something critical to ensure you are mastering the MCAT’s material.
For $179, you will gain 6-month access to three full-length practice tests. However, the purchase of Kaplan MCAT Subject Review Books (which includes access to 3 full online practice exams) is around $150 on Amazon, making the book purchase a much better deal.
$1,799 will grant you access to a slew of Kaplan’s MCAT prep resources for 5 months. Among other resources, the package includes 15 full-length tests, Q-Bank access, 130 interactive Science Review videos, all 7 textbooks, and 540 hours of total instruction and practice.
For $2,299, the Self-Paced PLUS package includes all of the above, as well as
3 hours of one-on-one coaching and over 90 teacher-led sessions on the MCAT Channel. MCAT coaches can provide valuable feedback in study approaches or time management. The teacher-led sessions help test-takers tackle particularly challenging material that may need more attention than the textbooks, Q-Banks, or videos may provide.
This $2,499 package provides all of the materials included in the Self-Paced Course, except that test-takers are enrolled in regularly-scheduled online classes led by a course instructor.
This package includes everything provided in the Live Online course, except it includes access to a tutor. Tutoring prices start at $3,699 for 10 hours of tutoring, but the price goes up the more hours of tutoring are included in the package.
$6,999 will enroll you in a 5-week intensive MCAT-prep boot camp. Students will meet virtually for 7 hours every day for instructor-led lectures. The program also includes access to everything provided in the Self-Paced PLUS course, except with 12 hours of one-on-one coaching.
Kaplan deserves its reputation of being a reliable force in the test prep world; its products and services are consistently high-quality. However, Kaplan’s prices—particularly for its packages that include instructor-led courses—can be on the steep side.
Kaplan’s set of textbooks (which includes 3 full-length practice exams) for $149 is a phenomenal deal. The course that I consider the best deal is the Self-Paced Course, which will definitely get the job done if you are self-motivated.
Kaplan also has excellent customer support, so be sure to call its student support number if you need more help running through your options for MCAT preparation.